The Food Research Collaboration (FRC) report, Feeding Britain: Food Security after Brexit, warned that a careless Brexit posed significant risks to food flows into and out of the UK.
Co-author of the report Professor Tim Lang, of the City University of London, criticised contingency plans from the Government to suspend food regulations in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
“One could argue that this is sensible emergency planning, but it is also risky. Consumers would rightly wonder who was guaranteeing the safety and quality of the imported food they were buying,” said Lang.
‘Opportunities for food fraud’
“Criminals would be alerted to opportunities for food fraud. And the move would send negative signals to the EU, at a delicate time in Brexit negotiations. It could make the UK’s third-country status more problematic for exports.”
The report went on to praise the Chequers Statement on 6 July and the subsequent white paper that recognised the importance of agri-food to Brexit. However, the FRC said the lack of focus on retail and foodservice was a weakness of the paper.
Another major criticism in the report was of the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA’s) decision to press ahead with major reform of UK safety regulations.
The FRC argued it created additional, unnecessary risk at a time when a stable regulatory regime should be in place as the basis of trade and Brexit negotiations.
‘Adversely affect food safety standards’
Professor Erik Millstone, of the University of Sussex, said: “It is vital, in the context of negotiating and enacting Brexit, that the Food Standards Agency and the UK Government more generally, avoid any decisions, proposals or actions that could adversely affect food safety standards in the UK or the reputation of the UK’s food supply.”
In response, the FSA said: “The government will not suspend food safety controls or weaken our high standards, even in the event of no deal. The FSA is working hard with other Government departments to ensure that consumer protection is maintained from day one.
“We are absolutely clear that the food regulation changes we are proposing as part of the Regulating Our Future programme will strengthen the current food safety and standards regime.”
The lack of attention being paid by the Government to the special needs of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland was also criticised by the Feeding Britain report. Co-author and professor at Cardiff University Terry Marsden argued the countries’ economies were highly food-dependent.
“There is a strong need for the joint production of a sustainable food framework which involves the devolved regions of the UK and the regions of England, such that it enhances food security and creates the basis for more healthy food consumption in the UK as a whole,” added Marsden.